Zambia’s wild resources, including forests and wild animals, play a critical role in maintaining ecosystem integrity, supporting rural livelihoods, and in diversifying the national economy. Yet this resource base faces growing local threats such as poaching, uncontrolled fire, and habitat conversion. Proposed extra-national regulations against certain forms of hunting also present a looming threat to local livelihoods. In a context where 94 percent of the nation’s land is technically under customary tenureship (i.e., administered by traditional authorities), including more than 25 percent designated for conservation, the responsibility for managing wild resources and averting these threats falls largely on rural communities, whether by mandate or by default.
Yet even where communities hold specific rights to manage and derive benefits from local resources, a combination of factors including weak institutions and structures of governance, as well as weak support from national government, undermines the effectiveness of these practices (Davis et al., 2020). These constraints have long been recognized. The constraints have also been partially attenuated by an active civil society and private sector, consisting of both local and global non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and businesses, that have worked in partnership with rural communities and government ministries. In particular, the vertical link between individual communities and the Zambian National Community Resource Board Association (ZCRBA), formed in 2016, positions the Association as a critical player in the governance of natural resources across government, private sector and non-governmental partners in Zambia.
Effective adaptive cross-scalar governance demands a robust monitoring and communication system to navigate the complexities of natural resource management and promote accountability. These complexities encompass more than the state and dynamics of the resource base itself and include coordination of activities between multiple stakeholders, the shaping of values, and other processes. Since May of 2020, ZCRBA has been managing a national database and monitoring system, developed with support from the USAID-funded Integrated Land and Resource Governance (ILRG) program. With the end of the ILRG program in 2023, technical support and the continued development of the data system will depend on ZCRBA and its partners, but ultimately on the value and potential value of the system to help these organizations and institutions in meeting their goals. Thus, there is a need to understand the value of the data system in its current and potential forms.